Often I meet new business owners confusing the difference between sales strategy and tactics, they end up being reactive, busying away on the micro and missing bigger opportunities to leap ahead.
When you focus on tactics without a strategy in place…
…you look and play like everyone else. But without tactics, strategies are meaningless.
When Phil Jackson joined the Chicago Bulls (NBA team) as assistant coach in 1989, teams typically learned a repertoire of forty to fifty plays. These plays were designed to help their explosive star player work their magic while the remaining four team members were supporting players. In the case of the Bulls, it was His Airness, Michael Jordan. Jackson described the Bulls as a team of lone warriors committed to their own success.
As a student of spirituality, religion and philosophy, Jackson was fascinated by the Lakota Warriors, a Native American tribe, where “being a member, they never acted against, apart from, or as the whole without good reason.” Jackson explored how he could bring the idea of the tribe into the team’s culture; he also wanted to integrate the practises of selflessness and mindful awareness to elevate the Chicago Bull’s game. Jackson also adopted a tribe system, with underlying principles of selfless ball movement, he called the five-man tai chi.
The system gives every player a vital role in the offense, whether they end up shooting or not. After introducing the principles to team, Jackson’s first step was convincing Jordan, who’d just won highest scoring title three years in a row, to reduce his shots at the basket, to get more team members involved.
After an adjustment period, the Bulls went on to win a historic three straight championships, followed by another three straight championships. When Jackson moved on to lead the LA Lakers to a Championship win, star player Kobe Bryant said,<
our teams were hard to play against because the opposition didn’t know what we were going to do. […] we didn’t know what we were going to do from moment to moment. Everybody was reacting to each other.” That was the five-man tai chi principle in action.
When Coach Jackson stopped focusing on plays and started focusing on principles, it changed the game for the Chicago Bulls. It made them one of the best teams in the history of the game.
In your business, when you excessively focus on plays (tactics), without principles (strategy), you cannot rise above the crowd because you look and play like everyone else.
Why does it matter?
Here’s a snippet of a meeting I had with the managing director of a small business:
What’s your sales strategy?
We don’t have one.
What’s your goal this year?
How does that compare to last year?
It’s about double.
How are you going to reach it?
By meeting and pitching.
Anyone, really. Our inbox is constantly flooded with incoming inquiries. It’s a bit scattergun, really.How is that different to what you did last year?
Well, it isn’t.
The conversation is an example of focusing on tactics without considering at the bigger picture.
It’s like crawling on your hands and knees through a field of overgrown grass. You’re hacking your way through the grass, reacting to whatever appears behind each blade, hoping to get out of the field.
But if you stood up and looked around, you could see where you need to go. You would see the obstacles, like that tree straight ahead, those bushes to the right. You would also see a little foot-bridge over to the left, a short-cut, leading you to the gate.
What’s the difference between sales strategy and tactics?
You know, I still get confused between the words strategy and tactics, so I’m going to wave my author’s prerogative and replace them with principles (strategy) and plays (tactics) to help clarify the matter.
What are principles?
They’re not a to do list and they’re not goals or objectives. Strategy is a set of guiding principles.
Example of guiding principles:
- Apple: Design over engineering. Simplification. Jobs demanded just one button on the face of the phone. He eventually wanted no button.
- Oprah Winfrey: Inspire people to see the best of themselves through the lives of other people.
- Nike: Innovation and research. The co-founder of Nike, Bill Bowerman, was obsessed with innovating ways to give runners an edge. One time he poured track rubber into his waffle-maker to create a better and lighter gripped sole.
Examples of sales principles:
- Increase profit per client
- Launch into a new market (geography, sector, demographic, etc).
- Increase up-sells and cross-sells
Because it’s easy to get distracted by smaller activities that don’t really move the needle in terms of where you want to be. Having guiding principles makes it really easy to say no.
What are plays?
Plays are about executing the principles. Plays bring your principles to life. Plays are the activities, the actual creation of value. And they must all serve the guiding principles.
In the Chicago Bulls scenario, five-man tai-chi and selfless ball movement were the guiding principles. Some of the plays included: forming a tribal ring in the locker-room before the game; meditating before each game; holding each other to a higher standard; getting MJ to score less, so others can score more; moving defence faster up the court to give everyone a shot at scoring. These plays served the guiding principles.
Common sales plays
- Follow-up – developing new leads requires persistence
- Develop advisor relationships – so you can increase profit per client
- Get testimonials – testimonials help you sell more
What’s more important, principles or plays?
Without plays, principles are meaningless.
Without principles, you’re reactive instead of proactive.
You make life a lot harder for yourself but end up looking and sounding the same as everyone else.
One thing you can do today
At some point today or this week, get a pen and paper to hand. Switch off all distractions, turn off wifi, silence the phone. Set your phone’s countdown timer to 45 minutes.
Answer these questions:
Your sales principles
1. What is happening in your environment/market?
EG: in the online advertising industry, ad-blocking is a big issue.
2. Where will you choose to play?
EG: Bloomberg looked at the buying chain and targeted the end-users (traders) instead of the IT purchasing department.
3. How will you stand out and achieve your objectives?
EG: Make clients heroes (wink wink, one of ours).
When you’re purely tactical, you end up reacting and get pulled out of shape, loosing sight of your vision.Take time this week to reflect on your bigger picture. When you do, you’re better poised to be proactive and stand out.
Here’s to you making your second half of this bigger than the first.